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Pitch continues to divide opinions as Australia aim to draw level

article_imagePRE MATCH ANALYSIS
Last updated on 08 Mar 2023 | 05:20 AM
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Pitch continues to divide opinions as Australia aim to draw level

Oh damn, here we go again

Three Tests into the series, you would have assumed that the ‘pitch’ doesn’t remain the talk of the town, right? Ideally, yes, but whenever a country is touring India, pitch remains the only opinion that they have. It hasn’t changed one bit here in Ahmedabad.

“[There] might have been a couple of [pitches] prepared maybe a bit longer out than two days but I can't remember two days," Australian captain Steve Smith said before the match. 

The Australian camp is currently bemused as to which of the two strips prepared is the pitch ahead of the Test, and then there is India, who have been belittled by the entire country over the span of three days in Indore. But whichever way you look at it, it remains to be seen if the bowlers (read spinners) continue to have a jolly time in the series.

Australia continue to be without their skipper, Pat Cummins but in Smith, they have someone who knows how to win in India. Smith is just one win away from becoming the only non-Asian captain to have more than two wins in the country. But for that, his Australian side have to play another perfect game here in Ahmedabad.

The English side and the fans would say don’t have your hopes high, but coming on the back of a win, Australia have all the reasons to be confident.

Things to watch out for

Does India know how to play spin?

If you have watched the Indore Test closely, you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that Australia are the hosts. In fact, they played spin very well in Indore, but against the scathing pace of Umesh Yadav, they collapsed. India succumbed to spin, not only on day two but even on day one, a day which is supposed to be the best for batting in Indian conditions. Have India fared that badly against spin, or is it an aberration?

Across five innings, the Indian top-order (1-3) have averaged 21 against spin, losing a wicket every 44.2th ball. In fact, even the strike-rate of the top-order hasn’t been an eye-pleasing one (47.5) compared to the Australians (58). In Indore, both the Indian openers endured a game that they desperately needed to forget.

Virat Kohli’s dodgy return against spin too has come under the scanner, but the resilience he showed in the first innings perhaps will give India much more confidence heading into the fourth Test. India have been way better than Australia against spin, but the result in Indore has really turned the public perception tilted.

Nathan Lyon continues to remain integral

While Ravindra Jadeja continued to stomp his authority in Indore, Nathan Lyon stood out as the difference between the two sides. So much so that he was deemed as the Player of the Match. What was interesting was in the post-match presser, Indian skipper Rohit Sharma came out in praise of the Australian off-spinner.

“He (Lyon) should be at the top, in my opinion. Obviously, I haven't played guys like Murali or Shane Warne. But among the current crop, he would probably be the No.1 overseas bowler to come and play in India,” Rohit said in the post-match presser.

What makes Lyon stand out? Simplicity and consistency. Out of the 125 overs that Lyon has bowled in the series, he has bowled 103.5 overs in the 6-8 m length, where he has fetched 15 out of his 19 wickets. That’s exactly the length India need to be wary of, and history suggests that the Narendra Modi Stadium is deadly dangerous. When India last played England at the venue, 27 of England’s 40 wickets came off that length, where they averaged 7.8. India averaged 17.3, so there is a case for India to play Lyon more carefully.

India’s underutilisation of Axar Patel

Over the last week, more than India losing, India’s underutilisation of Axar Patel has been the talk of the town. In many ways, that’s true, but in a team that has three spinners, it is always going to remain a dilemma for the skipper on how to give some time for the three in tandem. Axar averages 92.5 with the bat and 103 with the ball. In this entire series, he has bowled just 39 overs, which is only 16.25% of the overs.

With the bat too, the pecking order in the Indian setup has been rigid, with Axar walking out to bat at No.8 and 9. In Indore, he ran out of partners and looked a far more comfortable batter than the rest of his teammates. In fact, he has only been dismissed twice in the series. So, Rohit has his task cut out, and with the ball, it is almost impossible for the Indian skipper to toss the ball to Axar, considering the impact Ashwin-Jadeja have had on the series.

"If you have three spinners, you know that the third spinner is always under bowled,” said Rohit, and he knows that it is a serious headache. Maybe, Rohit can just tear a page off Smith’s leadership in Indore?

Pitch and conditions

Joke not, we are in Ahmedabad, a stadium that is notoriously known for the ball spinning square, and England could attest to that without the blink of an eye. Since 2021, the Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad has assisted the spinners the most, with 48 wickets at the venue across just seven innings.

The average for the spinners at the venue is 14.7. Additionally, for the pacers, it has been a difficult ground to bowl, with an average of 30.6. See the stark difference? Australia will have to come prepared for another rank-turner, but if Rohit is to be believed, there are chances that this particular Test will bring out a new look of the venue.

Tactical nous

-        Usman Khawaja is an integral part of Australia’s success here in India, but he has had his weakness – off-spin – all thanks to Ravichandran Ashwin. Across the five innings, the left-hander has been dismissed twice against Ashwin, with an average of just 20.5. Even in Indore, it was Ashwin who had him dismissed early on in the innings. While it is a ploy that India has used, India could very well be at it again in Ahmedabad.

-       Another ploy that is well worth considering is using the might of Shreyas Iyer against the Australian spinners. Iyer against spin has always been a dangerous weapon, and the numbers have backed that. Across his Test career, Iyer averages 50.44 against spin, with a strike-rate of 66.28. So, promoting him up early against the spinners could be a move that could happen. 

Team News

Despite the failure in Indore, there can’t be a finger pointed out at anyone in the team. Umesh Yadav, who walked into the setup too, performed to the expectations, which will make it an extremely tricky balance for India. If anyone, Siraj might have to take the bullet.

India Probable XI: Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, KS Bharat (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav

At this point, Australia will be happy to have found the happy ‘balance’ that has earned them a famous win in Indore. So, expect no changes unless something transpires in the nets.

Australia Probable XI: Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith (c), Alex Carey (wk), Peter Handscomb, Cameron Green, Mitchell Starc, Todd Murphy, Nathan Lyon, Matt Kuhnemann

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